ChrisWeigant.com

Merkley's Right: CBO Should Score Jobs

[ Posted Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 – 15:52 PDT ]

Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon has just proposed a stunningly good idea: for all legislation which emerges from the joint committee charged with lowering the deficit, direct the congressional "scoring" referee not only to provide the numbers for the impact on the federal budget, but also to provide data on the impact on the unemployment rate and the jobs situation. This is such an excellent idea, both on its merits and politically, that it should immediately be supported by all Democrats. Because it would force the public debate to cover the entire scope of the proposals being offered up, and it would do so by providing the data the public most cares about right now: how will this create or destroy jobs?

The "Plum Line" column over at Washingtonpost.com broke this story today. From the article (emphasis in original):

Senator Merkley has an idea on what to do about this. He is calling on both parties to agree to submit every proposal offered by the supercommittee to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, to be evaluated for the impact it will have -- on jobs.

He doesn't want the CBO to evaluate the proposals just for their budgetary impact. Rather, he wants the CBO to reach a conclusion on the impact the proposals will have on unemployment, whether positive, negative, or neutral.

"We need to have every proposal that the supercommittee brings out to have it scored by its jobs impact," Merkley told me in an interview this morning. He plans to urge Democratic and GOP leaders to agree to this standard, and hopes to build a campaign to make it happen.

. . .

Merkley hopes this move would encourage the supercommittee -- and the rest of us -- to view the supercommittee's work through the lens of job creation. At best it could create an incentive for the "supercommittee" to incorporate a meaningful push for jobs creation into its mission. But, barring that, this could also alert us when its proposals risk causing further job loss, which in theory would dissuade committee members from adopting such proposals or at least keep the public in the loop on what's happening.

"We need to have a 'no-harm' standard," Merkley says. "At a minimum, people on both sides of the aisle should be able to agree that the proposals do no harm to jobs."

"This will keep their feet to the fire and avoid a situation where their plan drives us into a deep recession or a depression," Merkley continues. "We must not repeat the mistakes of Europe, where austerity has driven the economy further into the ditch rather than pulling it out."

Merkley is right. Americans should be presented with this data, and the CBO should provide it to further the public debate. Because if Americans are presented with a choice between, for instance (I should point out that these numbers are mere examples and bear no relation to any existing proposal): "cutting a trillion dollars out of the budget" and "cutting a trillion dollars out of the budget, but by doing so causing unemployment to rise by 1.8 percent," it is likely the public would feel differently about such proposals.

Republicans, of course, are going to resist the idea of getting CBO to simultaneously score both budgetary impacts and employment impacts to proposed legislation. There's a simple reason for this: it's a losing proposition for them politically. Any Republican idea which was shown to destroy jobs is going to be a lot less popular to the public than if that fact weren't known ahead of time. Republicans know that some of their budget-cutting ideas are going to show up as negatives on the scale of job creation, so they therefore have absolutely no incentive to provide these numbers to the public.

But just because Republicans aren't going to like it doesn't mean this isn't still a great idea. The Republicans have conned the inside-the-Beltway chattering class into believing that the American public is more concerned with cutting deficits than with creating jobs and improving the economy -- even though poll after poll shows exactly the opposite. The American public (those outside the Beltway) consistently say that jobs and the economy is a much bigger concern to them right now than cutting budgets.

President Obama set up the argument in his recent speech to Congress. It's an easy argument to make, because it uses the Republican position as a springboard: "We can't afford to do everything right now." Since we can't afford to do everything we'd like to do, we must prioritize. Which is more important -- improving the economy and getting unemployment down, or cutting the budget deficit? That is the key question, the key moral argument, and the key for Democrats to frame the issue correctly to the public.

All Merkley is calling for is for the CBO to present these choices intelligently to the public at large. The CBO is an independent and nonpartisan number-crunching agency. How could any politician be against providing such data to the public, when jobs and the economy are the public's biggest concerns right now?

The Democratic argument for Merkley's proposal is an easy one to make, and can be boiled down to a simple challenge: "Why are Republicans afraid of letting the public know the impacts their proposals will have on the jobs situation? What are they trying to hide?" The American spirit of fairness and transparency is solidly on the Democratic side of the question. There is simply no argument to make for the CBO not to provide these numbers -- other than: "We don't want the American public to know the impact on jobs our plans will have, because we're afraid they won't support the ideas if they had this information."

This is a good fight for the Democrats to have, politically. They'd be arguing on the side of "Let the public know!" while the Republicans were left with "Keep the people in the dark!" That is a winning argument for any politician to make, on just about any issue in American politics.

The CBO will provide jobs analyses to any member of Congress who requests them, on any piece of legislation. But it doesn't promise that doing so will be a priority. What this means is that the CBO could score a bill on financial impact alone, release the numbers, and then go back and score the bill on the jobs impact much much later -- too late for it to influence the debate in any way. The only way they'll speed up the process is if Congress instructs them to, which is what Merkley is calling for. But, politically, if Democrats hammered on the issue with every discussion of the joint committee's progress on budget-cutting, it would put the idea front-and-center in the bigger debate. If, for every proposed idea, Democrats would reply with "Well, I'm waiting to see the CBO numbers on how many jobs this will create or destroy before I can support it," then it would put the pressure on both the Republicans and the CBO to see that those numbers were made available in a timely manner.

Senator Merkley is right, and he should be supported by every other Democrat in Congress. This issue should get a major push by all Democrats, up to and including the president. Obama has done a lot to shift the conversation to jobs and the economy, and he can follow up by demanding that Congress address the jobs impact of all budget-cutting ideas. The American people deserve this information when such legislation is proposed. There is simply no reason why this information shouldn't routinely be provided by the CBO -- at the same speed as the fiscal impacts. It is about as perfect a political issue as can be imagined for the Democrats to champion at the present time, in fact.

Democrats have a choice to make. They can either get behind Merkley's idea with the full force of their political will, or they can continue to allow Republicans to operate on a playing field of their own choosing and their own definition. President Obama is trying to redefine the Republican obsession with budget-cutting to a debate on choices, and on jobs. Democrats need to beat the drum of "Yes, but how will this affect the jobs picture?" on pretty much everything the Republicans propose at this point. Getting behind Merkley's proposal would be a giant step in this direction, and would force the Republicans into the indefensible position of "the public doesn't need to know that." Which is why Merkley's idea is such a stunningly good one.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Cross-posted at Business Insider
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

12 Comments on “Merkley's Right: CBO Should Score Jobs”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    I have been saying something similar for quite a few months now..

    Remember my response to those "Shall we tax the rich?" poll questions...

    I had proposed tweaking the questions so they read, "Shall we tax the rich even though it would mean that less jobs would be created?"

    So, how can I NOT be for Merkley's idea.

    My guess is that neither Democrats nor Republicans will go for this idea...

    Because NEITHER side has been giving the JOBS idea more than lip service these last few years...

    BOTH sides of the aisle have been more concerned about furthering their own Party's agenda and less concerned about the American People...

    My quatloos are on this being another great idea that is ignored by the political 'leader'..HA..ship.

    Michale.....

  2. [2] 
    tommymccarthy wrote:

    A subject close to my heart ....Jobs/the economy/Jeff Merkely......

    AND for the second time today...JUST as I sit to craft a comment ...I'm informed that time is short..

    A slow typist...(and thinker)...must return after a bit.

    Quickly:

    Heard a rumor Chris is laboring over a hot word processor on a BOOK
    (or as Craig Ferguson says: "for you younger folks thats a "papery blog")....

    Obviously ...I could not be more supportive and approving. (I just KNOW he was holding off waiting for THAT!)

    May it be so renumerative (look it up) that in the future we will all have to get on a "waiting list" to SEND him an E-mail....
    And an actual RESPONSE...will be limited to one lucky lottery winner a year.

    Also (the very FIRST I've heard of this) a rumor regarding my friend "Michale's" absence from another venue (call me Tommy-come-lately)......

    Speaking diplomatically, I'd like to know a bit more about this....if a way can be found.
    Familiar with his (Michale's) work...it's almost impossible to imagine a circumstance in which that would be justified.

    Right now...the local TV news is playing here at my second home.....
    On it, Michelle Bachmann..FIREPROOF grin in place...is waving frantically and shouting hoarsely to what looks like 20 people at a nursing home how GLAD she is to be here in Marin County....."where the Tea Party is alive and well!!" (smattering of tepid applause)

    This is PROOF that

    A:) Michelle Bachmann IS indeed stone crazy
    and/or
    B:) It's possible to have an LSD "flashback"...some 35 years after ingesting "Ben-n-Jerry's"....JUST by returning to the scene of the crime.

    Either way
    Back shortly with a bit re: The "Merkley plan"
    Possibly in the A.M.

    Regards
    tm

  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    Also (the very FIRST I've heard of this) a rumor regarding my friend "Michale's" absence from another venue (call me Tommy-come-lately)......

    Oh, I am absent from a LOT of "venues"... :D

    Familiar with his (Michale's) work...it's almost impossible to imagine a circumstance in which that would be justified.

    As I am wont, I will offer explanation via a movie quote (paraphrased).

    "{THEY} CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!!
    -Colonel Nathan R Jessup, Commander Ground Forces Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
    A FEW GOOD MEN

    :D

    Michale.....

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    To be fair to the operators of those venues, I can be a tad ....er.... uh.... "passionate" when I am debating my point of view...

    But it's mostly because the owner operators don't like someone contradicting them with logic and facts... :D

    Michale....

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Michale,

    But it's mostly because the owner operators don't like someone contradicting them with logic and facts... :D

    Ah, I don't think that explains it very well. I mean, if that were the case, I would have lost commenting privileges at the Huffington Post - again - a long time ago and there would have been no recourse for anyone to change that circumstance.

    It must be something else, Michale. I'm just sayin' ... :)

  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    It must be something else, Michale. I'm just sayin' ... :)

    Well... I spose it's possible that it might maybe possibly be something else.. :D

    Michale.....

  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Michale,

    Well, whatever the explanation may be, the bottom line is that you are here - always and forever - and that's all that matters. :)

  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    Well, whatever the explanation may be, the bottom line is that you are here - always and forever -

    Now ya gone and done depressed everyone here! :D hehehehehe

    Michale.....

  9. [9] 
    dsws wrote:

    There's contradicting people and then there's contradicting people. Any discussion requires some degree of common starting point. If Alice is interested in the connection between spin angular momentum of subatomic particles and their orbital angular momentum, and Bob really thinks the sun rises in the west, they can't very well have a useful discussion of why the sun rises in the east. If you go into a non-philosophical discussion and start challenging the premises not of the particular claims but of the basis for discussion itself, you can make yourself unwelcome much more readily than if you make reasonable-in-context refutations of the hosts' positions.

  10. [10] 
    tommymccarthy wrote:

    Michale...

    In general I believe no book, film or comment could possibly do anywhere NEAR as much harm as censoring it would.

    tm

  11. [11] 
    Michale wrote:

    dsws,

    If you go into a non-philosophical discussion and start challenging the premises not of the particular claims but of the basis for discussion itself, you can make yourself unwelcome much more readily than if you make reasonable-in-context refutations of the hosts' positions.

    All things being equal, you would be correct. But your contention, while accurate, does not take into account the egos of those running previously said "venues"...

    Some people simply don't like to be contradicted in a sane, logical, rational yet passionate manner..

    Which isn't all that big a deal, in the larger scheme of things..

    Excepting when those egos.. er... I mean those people are in positions of "power" vis a vis their own little fiefdoms...

    TM,

    In general I believe no book, film or comment could possibly do anywhere NEAR as much harm as censoring it would.

    While I agree with the sentiment in principle, I can cite many examples where censoring information in the interests of public safety would be prudent.

    However, I readily agree that political blogs and commentaries would not fall under that purview of "public safety".

    Michale.....

  12. [12] 
    dsws wrote:

    Some people simply don't like to be contradicted in a sane, logical, rational yet passionate manner.

    That's true. In my experience it's possible to contradict such people without getting booted from the forum, but it's sometimes more work than it's worth. I leave such discussions voluntarily.

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